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Can Indonesia become our most important ally?

By Everald Compton - posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The first step in answering this question will be for us to decide that we do want Indonesia to be an integral part of our world. Nothing in our national body language to date conveys a genuine desire for this to happen.

For example, we can take a look at the vexed issue of boat people. On every occasion that an Australian politician declares that he or she will 'turn back' the refugee boats and point them in the direction from which they came, we offend the Indonesian nation, as the refugees are not their citizens and the people smugglers are a criminal element of their population that they do not condone.

It is to our shame that the smugglers are often supported by the Australian underworld.


In fact, refugees are a bigger problem for Indonesia than they are for us, because Indonesia does not have the luxury of an offshore processing centre. The thousands of islands that make up their archipelago consist of endless kilometres of unpatrolled beaches that are easily accessible from the Asian mainland and absolutely impossible to patrol.

Clearly, we need a significant treaty with Indonesia that provides for a joint surveillance unit of substantial size, financed by both nations, to curb the flow of refugees in and out of Indonesia to the greatest extent possible. This must be supported by a strong legal framework, enacted by both nations, that gives real teeth to the operation.

Australiaand Indonesia can achieve this depth of partnership if it is part of growing alliance based on mutual trust between us. We are currently a long way from achieving this, but it is a goal worth heading for.

The boat people issue is really just one element in our very chequered relationship with Indonesia. We did not help them in their struggle for independence from the Dutch after World War 2 and we (rightfully) treated them with a degree of suspicion during the decadent years that Sukarno and Suharto were in power.

Our role in gaining freedom for East Timor widened the rift, even though our actions were correct, as they were when we asked Indonesia to account for the murder of five of our journalists around that time.

The Bali bombing which tragically caused the loss of so many Australian lives will forever be a very sensitive issue between us. The Michelle Corby saga is still a controversy in both nations, but I believe that Indonesia's tough stand on drugs is the correct one.


Independencefor the western sector of New Guinea will always be a festering sore, as the large and significant island of New Guinea should never have been split into parts by the British, Dutch and Germans. It is an example of absolute colonial arrogance.

But, good things have also happened, such as our relief effort in making a significant contribution to the rebuilding of Sumatra when that island was devastated by a tsunami. Indonesians will not forget that we stood with them during that tragedy.

There are also strong emotional links created by the agony of war when hundreds of Australian soldiers died on the infamous Sandakan death march in Borneo that the Japanese brutally forced upon them. Then, there was that horrible slaughter when 30 of our nurses were gunned down by the Japanese on a Sumatran beach. Both sites are places of pilgrimage that Australians will always honour.

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This article was first published on Everald@Large.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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